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Natural Awakenings Metro Phoenix & Northern Arizona

Plan a Healthy Escape from Summer Heat: Use these healthy strategies in the Valley, according to Dr. Philip Wazny

May 31, 2012 09:30PM ● By Philip Wazny, NMD

Escaping the summer heat in Arizona can be expensive and time-consuming. Taking a long summer vacation out of the Valley sounds idyllic, but some people cannot afford it, nor be absent from work. Therefore, finding strategies closer to home is critical. Fortunately, there are many “mini-escape” tactics one can take to keep stress levels low, mood high and physical health in tip-top shape.

Studies show that when people are exposed to high temperatures for prolonged periods of time, particularly during the Arizona summers, stress hormone production can be profoundly affected. More specifically, excessive heat causes the body to secrete cortisol, a stress hormone produced in the adrenal glands, located just above the kidneys. Frequent cortisol secretion, along with excessively high cortisol levels, will blunt the body’s metabolism and either slow or stop weight loss. It can also weaken the immune system and lead to a dramatic loss of energy. What’s more, an overtaxed adrenal system can cause depression and issues with anxiety.

Consequently, improving adrenal function can help the body to escape the challenges associated with the summer heat. “De-stressing,” both at home and at work, is a great place to start, and gentle exercise is one of the most effective ways of balancing cortisol levels. Get a pedometer, which is quite inexpensive, and shoot for somewhere between 4,000 to 6,000 steps a day for the first few weeks. There are many places to walk in air-conditioned indoor facilities, like malls or any of the big box stores—just be sure to leave your wallet, cash and credit cards at home to avoid impulse buying.

Swimming can also provide an excellent escape from the heat. Access to a pool in Arizona is not difficult and for beginners, there’s no need to start an aggressive swimming regimen. Simply walking in a chest-deep pool can be powerfully effective in three major areas. First, pool walking cools both the skin surface and the body’s core temperatures. Also, just being in the water takes weight off the joints, decreasing stress on the body even more. Finally, walking through the water also creates resistance that the core muscles of the body must work through and can result in their strengthening.

One exciting new approach to improving adrenal function while also getting a dramatic escape from the summer heat is through whole body cryotherapy (WBC). This technique exposes the body to very cold temperatures; about 212 degrees below zero Fahrenheit, for a total of two to three minutes.

A few clinics around the Valley (including that of the Phoenix Suns) have cryochambers that gently spray the body with a mist of supercooled nitrogen gas. It’s completely nontoxic, as 78 percent of our atmosphere is made of nitrogen, yet the chill it creates will stimulate the body’s natural healing processes.

As a bonus, a three-minute session will burn up to 800 calories, which is equivalent to a 90-minute intense workout. The best part of WBC is that although it achieves temperatures 10 times colder than ice ever can, each treatment leaves one completely dry and able to return to a normal routine feeling invigorated.

By adding these practices to a summer routine, escaping the heat does not have to feel like a chore or be expensive. In fact, with some careful planning and discipline, healthy escapes from the summer heat can positively impact the mind, spirit and body.

Philip Wazny is a naturopathic physician specializing in pediatrics and natural pain relief at Integrative Health, in Scottsdale. Contact him at 480-657-0003 or MyIntegrativeHealth.com.